“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” This quote from UCLA Bruins football coach Henry Russell “Red” Sanders in 1950 (not Vince Lombardi as some believe) highlights what has become wrong with our society. We have lost our way. Somehow winning at all costs became our mantra. It doesn’t matter what we have to do to win just as long as we win.

When I was a kid, any field or grassy lot would do as a baseball or football field (didn’t know what soccer was). We’d get a bunch of kids (all ages, shapes and sizes) together and play our hearts out, sometimes keeping score, sometimes not. It didn’t matter. What mattered was the opportunity to play.

I was awe struck when I got to play Little League. The field was better than anything I had played on before. It was the same with football. Winning was important, yes, but not the only thing. None of us did what kids are expected to do now — lift weights in the off season, attend training camps, eat, think and breathe whatever sport they are doing.

Discipline is good, I get it, but why go way beyond anything previous generations have done? It’s simple. It’s the quest to win no matter what the sacrifice.

When in school, I played sports but I also sang in the chorus and loved the theater. Nowadays you are pigeonholed into one area and expected to stay there so you can concentrate on that activity and on winning. Practices and off-season work outs are tightly scheduled, so much so in fact it prevents kids from trying other things. This practice has resulted in the Balkanization of schools with little cliques acting like factions and staying within their own areas. It also elevates these activities above academics, the true reason why schools exist in the first place.

Community sports are dying also. This has been happening for a number of years, but I knew it was inevitable when I started to see a kid from one area began to play in another area because his/her parents felt they had a better chance of winning. One of saddest sights for me is to see an empty baseball field with weeds growing over it because the kids who would normally play there went someplace else.

You can argue that it’s the nature of kids these days, with their Internet and games and Netflix and headphones. Maybe. But almost every person I have talked to who tried to coach kids to just have fun ran afoul of rabid parents and unbelievable community expectations. Because of this you have adults who aren’t willing to put themselves through this gauntlet of win-win-win, so the leagues quietly die and the kids close their doors and fire up the Nintendo.

Take this local sports example and apply it to what’s happening in our nation right now and you’ll see the same thing. There is no political off season. As soon as you are declared the winner in November you have to start raising funds for the next election. Some 2020 presidential hopefuls have already begun to campaign.

Political candidates can no longer debate the issues if they want to get elected. They have to tag their opponent with a derogatory nickname and vilify their supporters. Us vs. Them gets votes. The violence it encourages is just collateral damage.

Combine this with manipulative talking points and outright lies and you’ll have a pretty good chance of winning.

Inevitably, this toxic culture leads to two things — fear and hate. It stokes the fear of losing and provokes us to hate those we believe might bring that loss about. It closes our minds to other possibilities and hardens our hearts to anyone we consider to be a threat.

I am saddened but not surprised at all by the recent tragedies. We reap what we sow, and in the past few years we have been sowing fear and hate so our side can win and winning is the only thing — and it is tearing our nation apart.

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Sam Bundy is a retired teacher who lives in the suburbs of Sykesville.

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